Our lungs are resilient organs, but they are not invincible. Exposure to pollution, allergies, and illnesses can all take a toll on our respiratory health, making it difficult to breathe and hindering our quality of life.
As a registered respiratory therapist (RRT), this is something I’ve noticed first-hand while treating thousands of patients.
Fortunately, nature has provided us with a variety of herbs that can support our lung health and help clear mucus.
In this article, using scientific research, we’ll take a closer look at the best herbs for lung health, their properties, and how they can be used to promote respiratory function. So, take a deep breath, and let’s dive in!
Best Herbs for Respiratory Support
- Osha Root
- Green Tea
- Black Seed
- Oregon Grape
- Stinging Nettle
- Malabar Nut
- Wild Black Cherry
- Marshmallow Root
- Plantain Leaf
Scientific name: Eucalyptus globulus
Eucalyptus is a type of evergreen tree that is native to Australia. It is widely cultivated in many parts of the world, and its leaves are commonly used for medicinal purposes.
Eucalyptus oil is extracted from the leaves of the tree and is known for its strong, distinctive aroma. It has a variety of therapeutic properties, including being a natural decongestant and expectorant, making it beneficial for promoting respiratory health, clearing mucus, and treating allergic rhinitis symptoms.
How to use: Eucalyptus oil can be used topically or inhaled through steam inhalation or a diffuser. It is also used in a variety of commercial products, such as cough drops, chest rubs, and even insect repellents.
Scientific name: Verbascum thapsus
Mullein is a biennial plant that is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It has long, fuzzy leaves and produces tall stalks of yellow flowers that bloom in the summer.
Mullein has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine for its numerous health benefits. It’s packed with phytochemicals, such as quercetin, that have anti-inflammatory effects on the body. This is why researchers believe that mullein is beneficial for respiratory pathologies.
How to use: Make mullein tea by steeping the leaves in hot water for several minutes to promote respiratory health. Mullein is also available in other forms, including capsules and tinctures, which can be taken orally.
Scientific name: Curcuma longa
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory herb that has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including promoting lung health.
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs and improve lung function in people with respiratory conditions.
How to use: Turmeric can be consumed in many forms, including as a spice in cooking, as a tea, or as a supplement in capsules or tinctures.
Scientific name: Marrubium vulgare
Horehound is a plant that is native to Europe, North Africa, and southwestern and central Asia. It has gray-green leaves and produces small white flowers. Horehound has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine for its therapeutic properties, including for respiratory health.
It has natural expectorant and cough-suppressant properties, making it beneficial for relieving cough, hoarseness, and other symptoms of bronchitis.
How to use: Horehound can be consumed in many forms, including capsules, tinctures, or brewed in tea. It is also found in candy and cough drops for soothing a soar throat.
Scientific name: Mentha x piperita
Peppermint is a refreshing herb that contains menthol, a natural decongestant that can help to open up the airways and relieve congestion.
It also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which can help to soothe sore throats and reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract.
How to use: Drink peppermint tea or use peppermint essential oil to promote healthy breathing and relieve congestion.
Scientific name: Glycyrrhiza glabra
Licorice is native to southern Europe and Asia, and its roots have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years.
Licorice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin, which has natural anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer properties, which can, directly and indirectly, benefit the respiratory system.
How to use: Licorice can be taken in tea or supplement form as a powder, capsule, or tincture. It’s also available as candy or cough drops.
7. Osha Root
Scientific name: Ligusticum porteri
Osha root is a perennial herb that is native to the Rocky Mountains and other areas of western North America. It has been used for centuries by Native American tribes for its medicinal properties.
Osha root is commonly used to treat respiratory infections, such as colds, flu, and bronchitis. It is believed to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce inflammation and improve breathing.
How to use: Brew osha root tea for respiratory benefits, or it may also be consumed in capsule or tincture form.
Scientific name: Panax ginseng
Ginseng is a perennial plant that has been used for centuries in traditional medicine. It’s known to have various health benefits, including improving mental and physical performance, boosting the immune system, and reducing stress and fatigue.
It is also used to promote respiratory health and treat conditions such as diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and hypertension.
In fact, a study found the properties of ginseng effective in treating respiratory tract infections.
How to use: Ginseng can be consumed in various forms, including tea, in capsules, or as an ingredient in various foods and supplements.
Scientific name: Sambucus nigra
Elderberry refers to the fruit of the Sambucus nigra plant, which is a small shrub or tree native to Europe and North America. Elderberry has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments.
Elderberry is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties. It is commonly used to boost the immune system and to help prevent and treat viral respiratory illnesses.
How to use: Elderberry is available in various forms, including as a syrup, lozenge, capsule, or tea. It is also used as an ingredient in various foods and supplements.
Scientific name: Astragalus membranaceus
Astragalus is a plant native to Asia that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. The root of the astragalus plant is commonly used for its medicinal properties.
Astragalus is believed to have immune-boosting properties and is often used to prevent and treat colds, flu, and other respiratory infections. It is also used to reduce inflammation and improve the function of the liver, kidneys, and cardiovascular system.
How to use: Astragalus can be consumed in various forms, including capsules and liquid extracts. Additionally, the root can be ground into a powder, which can then be used to brew into teas or added as an ingredient in various foods.
Scientific name: Citrus bergamia
Bergamot is a type of citrus fruit that is native to Southern Italy. The essential oil extracted from the peel of the bergamot fruit is commonly used in aromatherapy and perfumery.
Bergamot oil has a fresh, citrusy scent and is believed to have a variety of health benefits. It is commonly used to reduce stress and anxiety, as well as to improve mood and promote relaxation.
One study found it effective in reducing high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease markers, which can indirectly benefit the respiratory system.
How to use: Bergamot essential oil can be used topically, inhaled through a diffuser, or added to bathwater. It’s also available in various supplements, including powders, capsules, and juices.
Scientific name: Zingiber officinale
Ginger is a flowering plant that is widely used as a spice and as a natural remedy for various health conditions. It has a spicy and pungent flavor and is often used in cooking and baking, as well as in traditional medicine.
Ginger has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and is commonly used to treat nausea, vomiting, and indigestion.
In addition, a study confirmed the beneficial effects of ginger on smooth muscle tissues in the airways of the lungs.
How to use: Ginger can be used in various forms, including fresh, powdered, or as an oil. It can be added to food or drinks for flavor, brewed into tea, or taken in capsule form.
Scientific name: Salvia rosmarinus
Rosemary is an evergreen herb with needle-like leaves and a woody aroma. It is native to the Mediterranean region, but it is now widely cultivated throughout the world.
Rosemary is commonly used as a culinary herb to flavor various dishes. It is also used as a natural remedy for various health conditions due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
In fact, a study found that rosemary extract may be effective in treating pulmonary fibrosis.
How to use: Rosemary can be used fresh or dried in cooking, adding a fragrant and savory flavor to dishes. It can also be brewed into tea, used as an essential oil for aromatherapy, or applied topically.
Scientific name: Lavandula
Lavender is a flowering plant prized for its beautiful purple-blue flowers and sweet, floral fragrance. It is a popular ornamental plant in gardens and is often used in landscaping and as a decorative element in floral arrangements.
Lavender has also been used for medicinal purposes, such as promoting relaxation and reducing stress and anxiety.
A study found that the inhalation of lavender essential oil suppresses allergic airway inflammation, which indicates its effectiveness in individuals with bronchial asthma.
How to use: Lavender can be used in various ways, including as an essential oil for aromatherapy, added to bathwater, or used in skincare products.
15. Green Tea
Scientific name: Camellia Sinensis
Green tea is a popular beverage that has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including supporting respiratory health.
Some people also enjoy green tea for its caffeine content, which can provide a mild energy boost without the jitters often associated with coffee or other caffeinated beverages.
Green tea contains compounds called catechins, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract.
How to use: Green tea can be brewed using loose tea leaves or tea bags and consumed hot or cold. Green tea can also be used as an ingredient in various foods and supplements.
Scientific name: Schisandra chinensis
Schisandra is a fruit-bearing vine native to East Asia. The fruit of the Schisandra plant is sometimes referred to as the “five-flavored berry” because it contains all five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami.
Schisandra has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a tonic herb to support overall health and well-being.
Schisandra is believed to have adaptogenic properties, meaning that it may help the body adapt to stress and support healthy adrenal function. It is also thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may support respiratory function and cognitive health.
How to use: Schisandra can be consumed as a supplement in capsule or liquid form or brewed into a tea using dried berries.
Scientific name: Achillea millefolium
Yarrow is a flowering plant native to temperate regions of Europe, Asia, and North America. It has feathery, fern-like leaves and clusters of small, white or pink flowers that bloom in the summer months.
Yarrow has a long history of use in traditional medicine, particularly for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It is often used topically as a poultice or salve to help heal wounds and soothe skin irritations.
How to use: Yarrow can be used as a tea, tincture, or in topical applications.
18. Black Seed
Scientific name: Nigella sativa
Black Seed, also known as black cumin or kalonji, is a plant native to South Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. The plant produces small black seeds that have been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine for a variety of health benefits.
Black seed is believed to have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties and may help to support immune function and promote overall health and well-being.
It is often used as a natural remedy for conditions such as asthma, allergies, digestive problems, and skin conditions.
How to use: Black seed oil, which is extracted from the seeds, can be consumed as a supplement in capsule and tincture form or used topically in skincare products.
Scientific name: Origanum vulgare
Oregano is a perennial herb native to the Mediterranean region and western Asia. It is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, and is known for its pungent, spicy flavor and aroma.
Oregano is commonly used as a culinary herb in Mediterranean and Mexican cuisine. In addition to its culinary uses, oregano has been used in traditional medicine for its antibacterial, antifungal, and antioxidant properties.
It is often used as a natural remedy for respiratory infections, digestive issues, and skin irritations.
How to use: Oregano can be used fresh or dried in cooking, adding a savory and slightly spicy flavor to dishes. It is also used in oil form for aromatherapy and in topical applications.
Scientific name: Thymus vulgaris
Thyme is a fragrant herb that is native to the Mediterranean region but is now grown all over the world. It is an evergreen shrub that belongs to the mint family, and it is widely used as a culinary herb and also has medicinal properties.
Thyme leaves are small, oval-shaped, and green-gray in color, with a pungent, herbaceous aroma and a slightly bitter taste. It is commonly used in cooking to flavor meats, soups, stews, and sauces, and it pairs well with other herbs like rosemary, sage, and parsley.
In addition to its culinary uses, thyme is also used in traditional medicine to treat respiratory and digestive issues, as well as sore throat and coughs. Its essential oil is used in aromatherapy and as a natural insect repellent.
Thyme extract is also known for its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and has been used therapeutically to treat individuals with COPD.
How to use: Thyme can be used fresh or dried in cooking, adding a fragrant and earthy flavor to dishes. It is also used in essential oil form for aromatherapy and in topical applications.
Scientific name: Inula helenium
Elecampane is a plant that belongs to the Asteraceae family and is native to Europe and Asia. The plant has tall stems that can grow up to 6 feet in height, with large, yellow flowers that bloom in the late summer and early fall.
The leaves are large and lance-shaped, with a woolly texture, and the root is thick and fleshy, with a distinctive aroma and taste.
Elecampane has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, particularly for respiratory issues like coughs, bronchitis, and asthma. It is believed to have expectorant properties, which can help to clear the lungs of mucus and phlegm.
It has also been used as a digestive aid, as it is thought to stimulate the production of gastric juices and improve the appetite.
How to use: Elecampane can be used in tincture form, topically in ointments and creams, or consumed as a tea.
22. Oregon Grape
Scientific name: Mahonia aquifolium
Oregon grape is an evergreen shrub native to western North America, from Alaska to northern California. It is known for its distinctive holly-like leaves, which are dark green and glossy, and its bright yellow flowers, which bloom in the spring and are followed by dark blue berries in the summer.
The plant has historically been used by Indigenous peoples for medicinal purposes, including to treat skin conditions, digestive issues, and infections.
Oregon grape has a compound known as berberine, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that can benefit the respiratory system.
In addition, the berries of the plant are sometimes used in culinary applications, such as making jelly or as a substitute for huckleberries in recipes.
How to use: Oregon grape can be consumed as a supplement in capsule or liquid form or used topically in creams and ointments.
Scientific name: Pulmonaria officinalis
Lungwort is a herbaceous plant that is native to Europe and western Asia. It is known for its distinctive leaves, which are often mottled with white spots and resemble the appearance of lungs.
The plant is also valued for its medicinal properties and has traditionally been used to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and asthma.
In modern herbal medicine, lungwort is still used as a natural remedy for respiratory issues and is often included in cough and cold remedies. The plant is believed to heqwf crave expectorant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to loosen phlegm and mitigate breathing issues.
How to use: Lungwort can be consumed as tea or in tincture form. It also comes as a supplement in powder or capsule form.
Scientific name: Inula racemose
Pushkarmool is a perennial plant that is native to the Himalayan region of India. It is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine for its medicinal properties.
The root of the pushkarmool plant has been used to treat a variety of respiratory conditions. In fact, a study found it effective in treating bronchial asthma, as it improved the pulmonary function test (PFT) results of participants.
How to use: Pushkarmool can be consumed as a powder or in capsule form, or it can be brewed in tea.
Scientific name: Piper longum
Pippali, also known as long pepper, is a type of pepper that is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. It is similar to black pepper, but has a longer, thinner shape and a milder flavor.
Pippali is believed to have a variety of health benefits, including improving digestion, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation. It is also used to treat respiratory conditions, such as bronchial asthma.
How to use: Pippali can be consumed in various forms, including as a powder, in capsules, or as an ingredient in various Ayurvedic formulas.
Scientific name: Terminalia bellirica
Bibhitaki is a large deciduous tree that is native to Southeast Asia. It has been used for centuries in traditional Indian medicine to treat a variety of ailments.
Bibhitaki is believed to have astringent, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties, and is used to treat a variety of conditions, including respiratory infections, digestive disorders, and skin problems.
Studies also found that its antioxidant and bioactive compounds may have protective effects against various types of cancer.
How to use: Bibhitaki can be consumed as a powder or in capsule form and is also used topically in skincare products.
27. Stinging Nettle
Scientific name: Urtica dioica
Stinging nettle is a perennial plant that grows in moist, fertile soil and is often found in wooded areas or along streams and rivers. It’s most commonly found in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Stinging nettle got its name due to the small, hair-like structures on the leaves and stems that release histamine and other chemicals when touched, causing a stinging or burning sensation on the skin.
However, when properly harvested and processed, stinging nettle can be used for a variety of medicinal purposes.
A study found that this herb may have protective effects against airway inflammation, which is useful in individuals with asthma.
How to use: Stinging nettle can be consumed in tea or taken in capsule form. It is also used as an ingredient in skin care products, as it is believed to have anti-inflammatory and astringent properties.
Scientific name: Andrographis paniculata
Andrographis is a medicinal plant that has been traditionally used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for its anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and immunostimulatory properties. It is commonly known as the “King of Bitters” due to its bitter taste.
Andrographis has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including respiratory infections, fever, sore throat, and digestive disorders. This herb also contains compounds that were used to effectively treat the flu and COVID-19.
How to use: It is available in various forms, including capsules, tablets, and teas, and can be found in health food stores and online retailers.
29. Malabar Nut
Scientific name: Justicia adhatoda
Malabar nut is a medicinal plant native to Asia and Africa. It has been used as a treatment for asthma, cough, common cold, and tuberculosis. Researchers believe that it also has expectorant properties, which are helpful in the removal of mucus from the lungs.
How to use: Malabar nut leaves can be boiled in hot water with a spoonful of honey to make medicinal tea. It also comes as a powder in supplement form.
Scientific name: Elettaria cardamomum
Cardamom is a spice that is native to India, Nepal, and Bhutan. It is widely used in traditional medicine and cooking.
Cardamom has natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that can lower blood pressure, prevent infections, and help with digestion.
A study found that it may also improve breathing by enhancing oxygen uptake and promoting the relaxation of the airways in the lungs.
How to use: Cardamom is a versatile spice used for cooking and baking. It’s also available as a supplement, extract, powder, and essential oil.
Scientific name: Tussilago farfara
Coltsfoot is a perennial herb that is native to Europe and Asia. It has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine for its therapeutic properties.
A study found that it has antitussive, expectorant, and anti-inflammatory activities, which are helpful in treating a chronic cough. Pharmacological studies also found it effective in relieving inflammatory conditions and infectious respiratory diseases.
How to use: Coltsfoot leaves may be used in teas and syrups. The extract is also used as an ingredient in cough drops and hard candy.
Scientific name: Emblica officinalis, Terminalia chebula, and Terminalia belerica
Triphala is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal formulation that has been used for centuries in India. It is a blend of three fruits:
Each of these fruits has unique properties, and when combined together, they create a synergistic effect that provides numerous health benefits.
Triphala is believed to have a variety of therapeutic properties, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects. It is commonly used to promote digestive health, support healthy elimination, and support respiratory health.
How to use: Triphala is available in supplement form and can be taken orally as a capsule, tablet, or powder. It can also be applied topically in creams and lotions.
Scientific name: Sitopaladi churna
Sitopaladi is a traditional Ayurvedic herb blend that has been used for centuries to support respiratory health. It contains compounds that may help treat a cough associated with pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and viral respiratory infections.
It has also been prescribed to alleviate pharyngeal and chest congestion.
How to use: Sitopaladi is available in supplement form and can be taken orally as a powder or capsule.
34. Wild Black Cherry
Scientific name: Prunus serotina
Wild black cherry is a tree that is native to North America, and its bark, leaves, and fruit have been used for medicinal purposes.
Studies found that wild black cherry is rich in polyphenols, antioxidant, and antihypertensive properties that can indirectly support respiratory health.
How to use: Wild black cherry is available as juice or tea, and it also comes in supplement form as a capsule or tincture.
35. Marshmallow Root
Scientific name: Althaea officinalis
Marshmallow root is a perennial herb that is native to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. It has been used for centuries in traditional herbal medicine for its therapeutic properties.
A study found that marshmallow root has anti-inflammatory and protective effects that can benefit individuals with inflamed buccal mucosal membranes. Additionally, it may also be used to treat coughing.
How to use: Brew marshmallow root tea by steeping the roots in hot water for several minutes to soothe irritated respiratory tissues and promote healthy digestion. It also comes as a supplement in powder or capsule form.
Scientific name: Medicago sativa
Alfalfa is a perennial flowering herb that belongs to the legume family. It is native to Asia and is now widely cultivated throughout the world as a forage crop for livestock.
Alfalfa is also used in herbal medicine and as a dietary supplement due to its high nutritional value. The leaves and seeds of the alfalfa plant are rich in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, including vitamin K, vitamin C, copper, and manganese.
These nutrients are responsible for the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of alfalfa, which can benefit the respiratory system.
How to use: Alfalfa can be taken in various forms, including tea, tincture, or supplement form, and is commonly used in combination with other herbs for maximum benefits.
37. Plantain Leaf
Scientific name: Plantago major
Plantain leaf is a common herb that belongs to the Plantaginaceae family. It is native to Europe but can be found growing all over the world. Plantain leaf has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat a variety of health issues, including respiratory ailments.
The leaves of the plantain are typically harvested and dried, then used to make teas, tinctures, and other herbal supplements.
Plantain leaf contains a variety of compounds that are believed to have therapeutic effects. This includes anti-inflammatory properties that researchers believe can help treat upper respiratory tract infections.
How to use: Brew plantain leaf tea by steeping the leaves in hot water for several minutes to soothe irritated respiratory tissues.
Incorporating herbs into your daily routine is a natural way to clear mucus and improve lung health. From eucalyptus to alfalfa, each of these herbs possesses unique qualities that can help soothe inflamed airways, alleviate congestion, and even fight off harmful bacteria.
However, it’s important to remember that herbs should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment but rather as a complementary approach to supporting your overall respiratory health.
By working with your healthcare provider and incorporating these herbs into your diet and lifestyle, you can take proactive steps toward keeping your lungs healthy and functioning at their best.
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
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